Executives are very smart people. They are typically experts in the subject matter of their organizations and they take their work and time seriously. The good ones work very hard and are not easily swayed by others’ opinions. Consequently, the use of an outside facilitator or consultant to work with the executive team is often resisted. In my view, the resistance makes sense. Far too many consultants fall into the trap of challenging the executives’ expertise and some tell the executives what to do. Sometimes it works. My approach is different.
Create a conversation.
In my 28 years of working with leadership groups, I’ve learned that my job is simply to create the conversations that will allow them to get work done better than they can without me. I work closely with the executives before their meetings to find out things like:
What is the most important thing to accomplish?
How do they normally work together?
What lead up to considering a consultant / facilitator / executive coach?
What are their usual frustrations with meetings?
What would add enough value to the meeting to warrant paying for my services?
There are many more questions dealing with the right sequence of work, the areas likely to produce conflicts, the clarity of executives’ roles, the dynamics of executive interaction with the next level of management and with the organization, the pace of the meeting, the agenda, and so on. Also important: what is my relationship and role relative to the most senior person in the room. What I want is a partnership that enhances their existing capabilities.
Observe and reflect.
Learn while doing real work. The most important thing I teach is how to observe your own dynamics. When executives learn to observe and reflect on what is happening in their meetings in real time, they gain control over their own processes. My job is to help them learn how to do that. When it is appropriate to offer a leadership theory to help broaden or organize thinking, I’ll provide it. If I don’t know what to do, I’ll go find out.
Learn what is unique to your executive team.
There are enough similarities between senior leaders across organizations that my experience with the following groups has given me a good start in preparing to work with you:
Senior Leaders of Navy Undersea Warfare Engineering and Maintenance, Keyport, Washington Leaders in this division became concerned with schedule slides and wanted help to increase accountability among their employees. They have been discovering that a new level of cooperative relationships and task management is needed to allow the existing commitment to excellent to be displayed. My task has evolved to coaching the senior team more than consulting.
The executives and 100 person leadership team of Boeing Computer and Support Services. While this group no longer exists in the old form (1988 to 1996) it was exciting to work with cutting edge computer science experts, software engineers and the airplane manufacturing environment. There were times they did not agree with each other!
Executives of the American Association of Family Physicians and the American Board of Family Medicine. Physicians are not easily persuaded by others’ ideas or by people who are not physicians. This work required setting up new conversations and getting out of the way while holding them to their agreed purpose.
Executives of the Boeing Employees’ Credit Union. These smart, dedicated people run both a disciplined financial organization and a fast paced customer service program. Decisions have implications for a lot of people – just as each meeting they hold.
Executives of Multicare Health Systems, Tacoma. The combination of medicine, finance, information systems, physical plant and the lives of patients makes leaders like these the most challenged of all executives. My work was to help them align the vision and certain process improvements while involving 1200 employees. They received an award for their work.
Executives of Port Blakely Properties, Seattle. Repeated engagements have allowed me to shift from simply a facilitator to a real time coach for this dynamic, multi-faceted company.
Senior leaders of the Washington State Department of Health (Secretary of Health). Over a period of several years, I helped them find the trees in a quickly changing forest. A big part of my job was to help them slow down enough to think. I was told that when I was room, at the table, their dynamics changed for the better.
Working with an outside consultant is good practice.
Schedule a meeting with an executive coach, preferably in person, also by telephone. By the end of an hour you will have a good assessment of whether the coach will fit with you and your executives.